Westminster diary w/b 21st March


There was a debate on the sacking of 800 seafarers by P&O Ferries, who were then replaced by new crew that are being paid, in some cases, as little as £1.80 an hour. It would have been a good debate, and there was plenty of energy put into it, had it not been on such a harrowing topic. The 800 were sacked via zoom and with immediate effect and then were escorted off ships by balaclava wearing security guards and were told that they would only receive a redundancy package if they signed a non-disclosure agreement. This is a vile abuse of workers’ rights and it won’t be the last if the UK government do not act swiftly to sanction P&O and reinstate these workers. Attempts by both SNP and Labour at Westminster have been made to legislate to ensure such practices could not happen, post Brexit. And I was surprised to hear so many Conservative and Unionist MPs express their shock, given that they didn’t support the Fire and Rehire Bill which would have gone some way to ban such practices. I stayed for the adjournment debate which was framed around the coroner’s inquest into the tragic death of Jack Ritchie. Jack committed suicide as a result of the woeful lack of professional support on offer to tackle his gambling addiction. That description is not mine, it came from the coroner. On a lighter note, I can confirm that it was me that ran out of the tea-room when a mouse decided to join me.


My first event was a drop in to highlight the work done by Gambling with Lives. I met up with Paul Merson who shares his lived experience as a gambling addict to highlight the reforms required in the Gambling Act 2005. My select committee took evidence from Neil O’Brien MP and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. The session was on the Common Framework and the Common Procurements Process but Mr Rees-Mogg couldn’t stop himself from expressing his view that Scotland lacks the ability to govern itself. Usually at such evidence sessions witnesses are professional and contained but I lit the blue touch-paper and he went off like a rocket. I attended a drop in event to discuss the future of home heating in Inverclyde and how hydrogen for heat can help to decarbonise the energy network. In the evening we spent two hours voting. In each one I voted ‘no’ to say I didn’t disagree with the Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill. The government did agree to disagree and therefore their MPs, mostly, voted ‘yes’. We then debated for an hour and had five more votes which followed the same pattern as before. All in all, that was three and a half hours consumed by the most ridiculous voting system you could imagine. Bearing in mind that to vote we need to walk through a lobby and swipe our cards electronically! There are MPs on crutches and MPs undergoing treatment for serious illnesses that during lockdown could have voted on their phones, but that opportunity has now been removed.


Prime Minister’s Questions saw the Conservative benches back to their old ways. Bullying, boorish and braying in a manner that exemplifies this UK government. This was followed by the Spring Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He announced a reduction of VAT on solar panels, heat pumps and insulation. And he promised a reduction in car fuel costs but he had nothing to offer for those in our society that can’t afford to eat. And there was nothing in the statement to reduce energy bills. The gap between the richest and poorest in society continues to increase. I had a one-on-one meeting with the Minister for Employment to discuss the closure of back office premises around the UK and sought assurances that Inverclyde was not closing.


I was in the Chamber for questions to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS). Unusually, I was on the Order Paper twice. Once for an oral question and once for topical, which was just as well as we didn’t get as far as me on the oral questions. I asked during topicals about a statutory levy on the gambling industry to fund education, support and research. In 2019 the UK government said that the existing voluntary levy needed to be proven to work or they would enforce a statutory one. I believe that time has come. I travelled home in time to attend The Greenock Highlanders hosted by Inverclyde Gaelic Learners at the Beacon.


I had an interview about the damage Brexit is doing and a meeting with the counter terrorism officer. The rest of the day was taken up with casework.